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How I Welcomed Psychosis as a Constant Companion

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Most of my life has included delusions with the occasional hallucination, and with my first manic episodes came debilitating paranoia, frightening hallucinations, and more vivid delusions. In the last year, following high stress and major life changes, I’ve had psychotic symptoms most days. I learned I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and borderline personality disorder, both of which can cause psychotic symptoms. Currently, antipsychotic medication isn’t a safe option for me and therapy hasn’t lessened psychotic symptoms, so I’ve learned to welcome psychosis as part of my everyday life. While being psychotic can sometimes be distressing, it can also be benign.

Living with psychotic disorders has not only become a normal part of my life, it has also given me perspective to appreciate how I see the world differently from people who have never experienced psychosis. My symptoms no longer cause such significant distress and dysfunction like they used to, and it is exciting to learn new ways to cope with them.

Today, psychosis is a companion to my daily activities, and I’m all right with that. With so few resources by and for people with psychotic disorders, I’m excited to share what my symptom management looks like in hopes it will resonate with other patients. I cannot offer medical advice, but this is what I wish I had been told when I first experienced psychosis.

Acknowledge that psychosis is part of your experience

Stigma can lead to shame and fear, but there is nothing inherent about experiencing psychosis that makes you dangerous, weak, or in any way inferior. Psychosis is common, with about 3% of the population experiencing it in their lives. If you have a psychotic disorder, you are not alone. Acknowledging and making space to understand your experiences can help you better connect with others, accept help, and live more freely.

Connect with other people who have experienced psychosis

Once I acknowledged my psychosis, I discovered a whole community of other people who share similar lived experiences. I have met some of them here on The Mighty, social media, community groups, patient programs, and even old friends who happen to have experienced psychosis too.

Reaching out to meet other people with psychotic disorders can make all the difference in learning coping mechanisms, finding medical professionals, and making new friends who understand you on a different level.

Share your experiences with a trusted loved one

Managing psychosis alone can feel scary and overwhelming. If it’s safe for you to disclose your psychosis to a loved one, it can lighten the weight of your situation.

When I first disclose my psychosis to new people, I like to describe it like I’m interacting with a different reality than them. My behavior may be different than expected, but that doesn’t mean I’m dangerous. When distress grows more significant, I sometimes do need help, and knowing I have supportive friends who will listen, take me to the hospital, or spend time with me until it passes has made living with psychotic disorders feel safer and more comfortable.

Learn to cope with discomfort

When symptoms or strong emotions from psychosis become overwhelming, learning to cope with them is important. Building a toolkit of coping mechanisms takes time, but makes all the difference when you can better manage discomfort.

Taking care of yourself looks different for everyone. Distress tolerance skills from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) have been the most helpful for me, and there’s plenty of activity lists online to try out and find what works for you. It can be getting yourself a warm cup of tea to focus on your senses, journaling, going for a walk, or any other activity that helps you safely manage your emotions.

Know when to seek professional help

When you or a trusted loved one notice changes to your symptoms, onset of an acute episode, or crisis, seek out help. If you’re asking yourself whether it’s time to get professional help, it probably is. Professional support looks different based on your resources and safety measures. It can include scheduling a new appointment with a doctor or psychiatrist, talking to a therapist, joining an outpatient program, checking in to a psychiatric facility, calling a crisis line, and/or meeting with your spiritual guide or leader.

If your psychosis is an ongoing part of your life, like it is for me, it doesn’t have to define who you are. Accepting psychosis as part of your lived experiences can be benign, empowering, or anywhere in between. You are welcome in a large community of other people who have experienced psychosis, and only you get to define your relationship with it.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Originally published: May 2, 2022
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